How Living in a Small Town Affects Our Finances

I knew leaving a large city (population of 165,000) and buying our first house in a small town (population of 5,500) would have some sort of affect on our finances…I just wasn’t sure how much.

Groceries and Personal Items

There are only 2 grocery stores in our tiny little town, a Safeway and a Walmart. Kind of limits your options.

Safeway has always been an expensive store, sometimes they have some awesome deals, but overall things are just over-priced. Sure they have their 4 doubler coupons in their weekly ads, along with some in-ad coupons and the Just4U program…but that doesn’t always help much.

Walmart seems like it would be easy to keep your costs down, but this one seems a bit off. Aside from some of the items appearing to cost more than they did in the larger city we moved from, they have a very limited selection…sort of like a mini-Walmart.

Expiration Dates

One of the reasons I wanted to get one of those gorgeous, huge french door refrigerators was to help us save money on our grocery bill. Having lots of room would allow me to stock up on items when I find a great deal. But that’s not so easy when the food seems to expire much sooner than it does in a larger city.

I’m assuming this is because of the lower population, which creates less of a demand. Therefore the stores order lower quantities so that items don’t go bad before they’re snatched up.


We knew that moving 30 miles away would mean our gas spending would shoot up. My husband already had quite a commute, now it’s even longer—meaning more gas than before.

On top of my honey’s work commute, there is also additional driving because of the lack of businesses in our little town. Also, some of the groceries we normally purchase just aren’t sold here, meaning I have to drive all the way to the city (30 miles each way) to get them. It’s probably about once a week that I need to drive out there for various items and services.

Apparently in our town, if you live 1 mile or less from your child’s school, the bus doesn’t come to you. So that means you have to either: drive your kid to school, have them walk or ride their bike alone or walk them yourself.

Our daughter is a big scardy-cat (which I take complete blame for), so her walking alone isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Plus I’m not so sure I would want her to walk with the Deliverance people skulking around and a pedophile living not too far away. Luckily, my husband leaves for work after her school starts, so I am able to use the car to drive her to school in the mornings. So there’s some more gas.

Then I just walk to the school to pick her up in the afternoon. It’s not going to kill me, but it would be nice to drive and get her, especially when it’s pouring or freezing cold out. I’ll live though.

Electric Bill

I was really excited to find out that we had the option of choosing who we got our electricity through. We could stay customers of our previous utility company or switch over to the new local provider.

Of course I went online and compared their rates and was happy to discover that local provider was dramatically cheaper than our previous utility provider. Woohoo! That was definitely a nice bonus for us.

We do also have a wood-burning fireplace, so we could always buy some wood and burn it. That would also be nice in case the power ever goes out. But it costs a couple hundred bucks to get wood and it’s not really that much when you think about it.

This winter, we’re planning to rely on electric heat and see how much that costs us. If it’s cheaper than the price of buying wood, then we’ll stick to the heater. Still it would be nice to have a small amount of wood, just in case and for having fires every now and again.

Do you think it’s cheaper to use the fireplace more or stick with the heaters?
Is it possible that prices are higher here or am I just imagining it? 

About Jen Perkins

Likes: saving money, being debt free (aside from our house), zombies, travel, getting money, blogging and dogs. Dislikes: debt, being broke, bunnies, wasting money, not having enough money to travel the world and paying interest. Facebook  ♥  Twitter  ♥  Google+  ♥  RSS


How Living in a Small Town Affects Our Finances — 43 Comments

  1. I don’t even live in a town anymore, and it costs $20 of gas to go to the supermarket. I have managed to reduce the trips to twice a month, and could end up with once a month eventually.
    Electric heat is pretty expensive, is there a way you can go to a forest on a family outing and pick up some wood? I love the fireplace, the house seems more alive when it is on.
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    • Oh my, 20 bucks just to go to the grocery store—that’s really expensive. At least you don’t have to go 1 or 2 times a week, that could be devastating.

      There might be somewhere around here we could go, but I’m not positive. Wouldn’t we have to get a permit to remove the wood?
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  3. Sounds like higher prices. Our dream for our next house is a toss, we can’t decide if we want to live in a very small town with lots of land, or in the city. ARGH! How did you guys decide?
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  4. I hope your electric heat works well, but unfortunately I think you might be in for a rude awakening (like we were). I could be TOTALLY wrong…but this is what I was told by the electrician that came and looked at our electric furnace (because we thought it was broke): electric heat blows out one of 2 ways: (1) you can run it as “emergency heat” which means the air blows out at 120 degrees F (normal gas heat blows out at 130 degrees F). So, this will still keep you really warm but it’s expensive because it’s drawing A LOT more electricity to heat the air. Or (2) you can leave it on it’s normal heat setting and it will ONLY blow out 50 degrees warmer than the outside temperature. So, if it’s 10 degrees outside, its only going to blow in at 60 degrees and your house will NEVER be warm.

    The latter method is a lot cheaper/efficient and is therefore the reason electric heat became popular. However, we hate it. We have a space heater than we bring with us to each room and that’s the only way we can warm up the house when it’s really cold out.

    The next house we buy will absolutely have a gas furnace. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but hopefully I’m wrong and yours works differently than ours.
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  5. My experience with electric heat is that it is much more inefficient than natural gas or oil heating. Wood is simply not a reasonable method to mass heat a house, but it works for a small amount of heat benefit in a short time.

    For the cost of living issue, I think there are many costs that you are not counting. For example, the main reason that you moved there was the relatively low housing prices (owning a house for about the price of rent). The school system could potentially be better, lower crime, quieter neighborhood, etc. These benefits that are factored into the housing prices could be partially offset by WalMart prices but I don’t know how easy it is to quantify.

    For some of the issues like having to go to the city 30 miles away, I think the internet has reduced the dependence on certain stores a bit and it also helps to prioritize and make trips far away to accomplish 3-4 tasks at once.

  6. Well, living in a small city brings about different trade offs. It is possible for things to be more expensive though most people would argue that life in ‘the country’ is generally cheaper. Petrol is a killer and I agree with the others – heating your house with electric is probably not a good idea: it is expensive and it doesn’t heat properly.
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  7. It will be interesting as you compare and contrast city expenses to your current situation. Right now we couldn’t move too far out in the boonies because of the cost of gas (and commuting)—it would leave us in quite a pickle. Some day, however, I would like to own a quaint abode waaaaay up in the mountains. Nothing beats rustic tranquility. :)
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  8. I lived in a small village at one point in my life in the Uk and you are a bit secluded. There wasn’t much but the general store, the pub, the school, the church and maybe one small shop. SO most of the families or mums would go to the corner shop to pick up bits which were more expensive than driving to the bigger city. The best part was living in a quiet place so there are pros and cons. We made one trip a month together with my family into the city to pick up bits and if they were on sale it was a bonus. It didn’t make sense to drive in every week with the cost of petrol. Living in a big city now it would be difficult to go back to that sort of living although it was when I was young.
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  9. Our first house was electric heat and a wood fireplace which had a fan that blew out the heat. It worked great for the living room and main areas. The electric heat was very expensive so we didn’t really use it. The bedrooms were cold, but I like a cold room to sleep in. We could buy wood pretty cheap. I would look for people who go chop loads and sell in bulk. It will come chopped, but you might have to get an axe to cut it up into smaller pieces that burn better. Our town is about that population and the closest bigger town is about 70 miles and it maybe has a population of 20,000, so I am a pro at small town living. You don’t get as much choice for sure. I never used to shop Safeway, but when you start doing the Just 4 U, they start sending you coupons on what you buy, so I shop there quite a bit and find it is generally cheaper than Walmart if you buy the sale items. You just can’t go in and be specific about one item or you will pay more. The tradeoff for us is that raising a child in a smaller place gives her more opportunities. If we were in Denver, she’d have to try out for sports or we’d pay out the nose for activities. Here, we can do gymnastic for $4 an hour and if she wants to play sports, she gets to play. Her school is really small also so everyone knows her and me and I like that. I grew up in a small town, so I never loved city life. If you were always a city dweller I can see how it would be culture shock. Sorry so long, but a topic I finally know something about!
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    • I guess I just need more practice living in a small town, it has only been a couple of months. Most of my life was spent in a big city, aside from when I lived in Texas (mid-size) and Illinois (about 3 times the size of our tiny town). I’m sure I’ll get into the swing of things…eventually.
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  10. I agree with you. Living in a small town can be a downer when it comes to convenience. Driving more than 10 miles is common. A lot of people in small towns have higher fuel vehicles like trucks.

    The upside is not being close to places like Chipotle, Target, super malls, etc. And having the freedom to raise a family in a large space. But a small town can be as expensive as a large city – true.

  11. I wouldn’t really call 165k a large city. That’s about the size of Fort Collins and the place feels more like a suburb. But I definitely understand about the small town living. I come from a small town. We joke that everything is half an hour away. There is only one grocery store, an independent that sells mostly organics, and there are no gas stations within city limits.
    I also walked to school. Like your town, the bus only got students who lived more than a mile from school and we lived .95 miles away!
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  12. If you have natural gas the heater is probably pretty cheap, but if you have electric heat I’d consider a little wood fire supplement.

    We live in a small town too. One of the big savings is taxes. We pay 1/2 the taxes my brother pays. Also childcare and other services seem to be cheaper as labor costs are lower.
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  13. We live in a small community…doesn’t qualify as a town (well, it is a village). We get to drive a lot…We have learned to combine as many trips as possible. And since we both work, the one driving the most miles in a given day gets the more fuel efficient vehicle (37 MPG). Still, we are just used to the expense.

    I do know that we don’t shop nearby, but when we run out of milk or eggs or something, we know it is going to be expensive.

    But we like where we live, and we’ll be sticking around.
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  14. We live in a rural area that doesn’t have transit service and work in a small city about a 20 minute drive from our home. The gas costs do add up but we never could have afforded a house in the city, both because of the higher housing prices and the much higher city taxes.
    Fortunately we don’t have children in sports so we aren’t running into town every night for that sort of thing.
    I try to do errands on my lunch hour so that I reduce the number of times I need to go in to the city in the evenings. Although I have to say that hubby goes into the city almost every night. :( I haven’t been able to get him onboard with the whole idea of saving money on fuel by reducing the number of trips to the city…hopefully one day, but I’m not counting on it.
    We don’t have any stores, grocery, hardware or convenience stores in our area and since the city is a very small city (approx. 50,000) I am envious of the grocery specials I see in larger centers but I watch for sales at the stores we do have (Superstore, Sobeys, Shoppers) and use coupons. We have two Walmart stores in the city but neither have a grocery section (well they have canned goods, paper products, and some frozen foods but it’s not a real grocery section). I did purchase a membership for Costco, because their gas is cheaper and I buy some grocery items there that I know are good deals.
    I’m with some of the others who commented that their are pros and cons to living outside the city.

    As far as heating I’ve heard that fireplaces are not efficient heat sources, they look pretty and I love the ambience but a wood-burning stove is said to be a much better heat source.

    • I keep hearing about the wood-burning stoves being awesome, but I don’t really like looking at them. It would probably save us a lot of money, but I’m not sure I could do it.

      I know how difficult it can be when you can’t get both people on the same page with finances, but he might come around after a while. :-)
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  15. The small Wyoming town we just moved to (husband got a better paying job) has no Walmart. Walmart and Target are a 1 1/2 hours away. The town we moved to has a population of just under 9k people. We have one grocery store: luckily it’s my favorite – City Market/Kroger/King Soopers. We have 2 hardware stores, a ShopKo, and the old school Alco. Grocery prices are they same, but knowing that prices are often higher at the local retail stores, we do the majority of our shopping when we go into the city once a month.

    The house we moved from in Colorado was heated with electric baseboard heat. We put in a wood burning stove and began heating 75% of the house this way. However, heating your house with wood isn’t going to save money unless you go cut the wood yourself. Buying the small bundles of wood at Walmart will end up costing more than electric heat. If you can’t cut your own wood, find someone who will bring a truckload and charge by the load – that would be the next best alternative to chopping your own wood.
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  16. Living in a small town can definitely limit your shopping options but it can really pay off as far as finding a good deal. Thanks for sharing!